Released in 1932, the year after Universal’s “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi, “Vampyr” was at the forefront of early vampire films and it contained the embryos of future genre titles within its 73-minute runtime. It was Dreyer’s first sound film after the silent classic “The Passion of Joan of Arc”, and with it he and co-screenwriter Christen Jul adapted parts of Sheridan Le Fanu’s 1872 collection of short stories, “In a Glass Darkly”, including the final tale, “Carmilla”, which received a simpler treatment in 1970 with Hammer’s “The Vampire Lovers”.
Here, the figure of the vampire is no longer just an external threat, but rather one that could eat away at families from within. “The Wurdulak” — notable for being the only time ‘Frankenstein’ star Boris Karloff played a vampire — would draw on a similar lore in 1963. We also see the seeds sprout for vampirism as a form of teenage rebellion in the film. by Dreyer.
Gray is the prototype paranormal investigator, seeking action like one of those ghost hunters you’d see on a reality show where they have to build excitement out of uneventful events. The shadows that guide him may be outward manifestations of his own fantasies, but he ends up witnessing a real murder.
The victim is the lord of the manor (Maurice Schutz, co-star of “The Passion of Joan of Arc”). Before his death, said Lord arrived at Gray’s room at the inn, much to the confusion of our hero, who was, as we have established, in bed at the time: half awake, half living. Without identifying himself or explaining what he was doing, the Lord left a package there, to be opened upon his death, and it turns out that this pregnant package contains the secrets of “the strange history of vampires”.